The Federal Government has released two new action plans to address the abuse and neglect of some children in Australia. The plans were developed in conjunction with state and territory governments. There is one overall plan and one plan with a specific focus on First Nations children. It includes early intervention strategies, support for care workers, and improvement in out-of-home care.
A national strategy for child abuse was agreed to by federal, state, and territory governments in 2021 under the previous Coalition Government. These action plans are the first step of that strategy. The strategy notes that one in 32 children in Australia received child protection services in 2019-20, two-thirds of them repeatedly. There were over 100,000 investigations and nearly 50,000 substantiated examples of abuse in 2019-20. The most at-risk age group was children under one. Children who receive child protective services are significantly more likely to show signs of disadvantage throughout their life – they are four times more likely to become long-term recipients of income support payments and ten times more likely to have their own children enter out-of-home care. First Nations children are 11 times more likely to enter out-of-home care than non-First Nations children. Reducing this overrepresentation is one of the national ‘Closing the Gap’ targets to address First Nations disadvantage.
Actions in the overall national plan include steps towards targeted early intervention and support, including better services for vulnerable children and families. There are also commitments to support child and family services workers, to improve access and quality in out-of-home care, and to improve data and research. The First Nations-specific plan also includes a plan for higher-quality legal support for families and to prioritise First Nations leadership and involvement.
The National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing welcomed the plans but emphasised a “concentrated and continual effort” would be needed. Jamie Crosby, CEO of Families Australia and Convenor of the National Coalition, said the rate of children entering out-of-home care “beggars belief… the overrepresentation of First Nations children and young people is heart-wrenching.” Crosby also called for governments to address “the broader drivers and risk factors” like poverty, housing affordability, and “entrenched inequality and racism.”
Federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said it was important for all governments to work together with care and community organisations to create “real and systemic change.” “All children and young people across Australia have the right to grow up safe, connected, and supported in their family, community, and culture.”
Shadow Social Services Minister Michael Sukkar told TDA the Coalition supported “the well-being and welfare of children and any action that works to reduce the unacceptable scourge of child abuse and neglect.” However, Sukkar criticised the Government for abolishing the Cashless Debit Card last year. The card prevented welfare recipients from purchasing drugs and alcohol. It was disproportionately used in First Nations communities, and the Government argued it ‘stigmatised’ welfare recipients. Sukkar called the repeal “ideological” and claimed it caused “a tsunami of drugs and alcohol in these communities, and devastatingly more neglect and abuse of vulnerable children.